CARDIFF (AFP) – Warren Gatland said Wales will relish being the underdogs in their Six Nations opener at home to Ireland on Saturday – the first match of his second stint in charge.
The New Zealander won four Six Nations titles and three Grand Slams in his first spell at the helm, from 2007 to 2019, also reaching the World Cup semi-finals twice.
But he has taken over a side at a low ebb after a disappointing 2022 under compatriot Wayne Pivac, a year in which they won just three Tests.
Ireland will kick off as the world’s top-ranked side after a year that included a series win in New Zealand plus victories over world champions South Africa and Australia.
But they have lost their past four Six Nations games in Cardiff since defeating Wales 10 years ago.
“I think all the Welsh like to be underdogs,” said Gatland. “They like people writing them off, as it tends to motivate them.”
Gatland has recalled full-back Leigh Halfpenny, in for the sidelined Liam Williams, for his first Test start in 19 months.
And there is no more experienced player in international rugby union history than former Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.
The veteran lock will start in the second row on Saturday as he extends his all-time record for most Test appearances by any player to 168, including 12 for the British and Irish Lions.